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ASC Successfully Advocates for Major Change in Scope of Fed-Funded Legal Services

 

African Services' Supervising Attorney Kate Webster and Co-Executive Director Kim Nichols successfully pushed for a major change in the scope of NYC Ryan-White Funding, according to an announcement released by Public Health Solutions on May 12, 2015, titled "Legal Services for Undocumented Immigrants to Obtain PRUCOL Status," which states: 

"Effective March 1, 2015, NYC DOHMH and PHS will allow for reimbursement of immigration matters in Ryan White-funded Legal Services (ADV) programs for the purpose of obtaining PRUCOL (Permanent Residence Under Color of Law) status for undocumented Ryan White clients."

One of the primary reasons immigrants living with HIV seek legal services from African Services Committee is for immigrant legal assistance. Under the previous mandate of the Ryan White program, immigration legal services were not an allowable service type. This was true for immigrants seeking assistance from ASC, as well as all Ryan White -funded legal programs across the New York City region. Immigration was simply not an allowable service.

 

"There was a harsh disparity between the need we saw with our clients and the parameters of services that our funding would allow," Webster said.

 

"Based on that disparity, we initially approached the folks at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to explain this unmet need and help them see the way in which providing these services would not only benefit clients, but also really advance the goals of the Ryan White program," Webster said.

 

The entire ASC legal team recognized the disparity. "I thought this was going to be years-long push and we made the pitch -- it is actually a big change," Webster said.

 

"Legal services were funded, but we weren't allowed to do immigration legal services. Now we can do immigration, which is really exciting." 

 

Providing immigration legal services helps with connecting people to care, it helps with adherence to treatment and it contributes to better health outcomes. Part of the argument behind the advocacy was that when you let Ryan White -funded legal grantees like ASC provide immigration legal service, clients not only receive immigration benefits, but also become eligible for a host of additional supportive benefits. For example, individuals living with HIV who have a pending or approved immigration application become eligible for better health care through Medicaid, and additional benefits support through HASA (the HIV/AIDS Service Administration). As a result, these clients are no longer reliant on less extensive programs, such as the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). Furthermore, much of Ryan White funding goes to support ADAP, "So you can imagine -- you'll spend all of this money on ADAP, but you won't spend a fraction of the budget just to let us provide the legal service to get them out of that entirely," Webster said. The PHS announcement reads further:

 

"If a Ryan White client attains PRUCOL status and meets other eligibility requirements, the client is eligible for HASA benefits and Medicaid. While PRUCOL status depends on immigration status, PRUCOL is a benefits classification and not an immigration classification. Accordingly, the agencies that administer public benefits programs adopt their own definition of who is PRUCOL. The New York State Department of Health and HASA define as PRUCOL any immigrant who is residing in the United States with the knowledge and permission or acquiescence of immigration authorities, and whose departure immigration authorities do not contemplate enforcing. In practice, this means that a Ryan White client without immigration status, who submits an application for immigration relief (giving immigration authorities knowledge of their presence), and whose application is either approved (permission from immigration) or pending (acquiescence of immigration), is considered PRUCOL."

 

 

"This is a big feather in the cap for ASC -- to push and achieve such a needed service," Webster Said. "We are thrilled to be able to offer this much needed service for our clients." 

 

 

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